SBJ/20100308/This Week's News

NFL to make major content push on Hulu

The NFL is rolling out elements of a new digital syndication strategy that reverses previous efforts to push all of the league’s key online content to NFL.com.

The league this week plans to announce an alliance with prominent video portal Hulu in which more than 600 clips of NFL content, encompassing more than 400 hours, will be made available. The clips will be mostly archival material and NFL Films-produced shows on NFL Network, such as “Game Of The Week” and “America’s Game.”

The partnership began on an experimental basis in late January. Plans call for expanding the effort to more than 1,000 clips by the start of the 2010 season. The material is quickly sortable by team.

NFL content, including some game highlights, also began quietly showing up on Yahoo! Sports and on MySpace during the latter portions of the 2009 season, with an NFL.com-branded video player launching from each site. The league now is actively pursuing other distribution partners, as well, though league officials declined to identify specific targets.

The moves are a marked turn following a 2006 vote by league owners to bring their Internet rights in-house and relaunch NFL.com the following summer based on a model of content exclusivity.

“This is really the next step or phase in the development of our Internet business,” said Hans Schroeder, vice president of NFL Digital Media. “The first phase was definitely built around a model of exclusivity, particularly with regard to game footage and highlights, but we’re now out looking at strategic syndication opportunities and want to have more content in more places.”

Hulu will get 400+ hours of NFL content.

The NFL’s immediate focus is at the league level. While the recent deals do aim to provide additional touchpoints for team-specific content, efforts to bolster content available directly on the team sites are secondary to a focus on NFL.com.

Financial terms of the pacts with Hulu, Yahoo! and MySpace were not available, but the Hulu deal in particular is built around revenue sharing with minimum guarantees pledged to the NFL. Users will be able to access the material for free.

Despite the idea of decentralization, the moves are intended to complement the user experience at NFL.com. The league hopes to engage fans who might not necessarily visit NFL.com and also supplement the digital revenue being generated there.

“Our big thing is about content discovery,” said Andy Forssell, Hulu senior vice president of content and distribution. “We think we can help bring further life to great content [that] people may not know is available. We’re looking to make a difference for the NFL in that regard.”

Forssell said the new NFL alliance will likely prompt Hulu to more prominently spotlight all of its sports content on the site.

Many major online companies have been pressing the NFL to make more of its content available since the move to bring its digital rights in-house. Hulu first approached the league in 2007, prior to its early 2008 launch, and others did so as well around the same time.

“We’re already looking do more with the NFL for next season,” said Jimmy Pitaro, Yahoo! vice president of media. “We think we can give them a big opportunity to reach a new audience, more casual fans. We’re very bullish on where we think this can go.”

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